The Desert

We took a tour of the desert and slept out under the stars. Our guide picked us up and drove us out into the arid mountains.

We went for a bit of a walk up a valley where there were plants growing, got some firewood, and then went to the spot where we were going to spend the night. Our guide made a fire and cooked up some vegetable pasta.

Spiky arrangement of scree. The rock in the area was slate. The cleavage was near vertical so that where it had weathered near the surface and formed a scree jagged fragments stuck out of the ground.

We settled down for the night in our big sleeping bags. There were many stars. After a few hours the moon came up. It was a full moon. It was SO bright! It lit up the whole landscape. Moonlight is so strange and so amazing, especially in such a weird arid landscape.

I woke up early in the morning and went for a little walk at sunrise. Thats where the others were still sleeping by the car.

The sun started to come up.

All that weird-lloking ground is the weathered slate.

Some of the rock had weathered to a clay.

It looks like water flows through here sometimes.

Then we got up and drove further into the desert.

We stopped and spent a bit of time checking out some sand dunes.

Then we went and saw this old ruined castle.

And the oldest mosque in Iran. Fahraj Mosque, dating from the 7th Century AD. Not long after Mohammed.

Inside the mosque.


Shiraz to Yazd

We got up early and went to get the bus to Yazd. Yazd is in the middle of Iran, in the desert. It is thought to be the oldest permanently inhabited city in the world. It has been inhabited for at least 9000 years. It is home to the majority of Iran's surviving Zoroastrian community and their active Fire Temple (Ateshkhadeh) is there with the sacred fire burning (Dagdah). I was looking forward to learning more about Zoroastrianism and hoping to talk to some practicing Zoroastrians.

My map of Iran. We got the bus from Shiraz to Yazd. It took about 8 hours I think. It was fairly comfortable.


More lovely!

It got more arid as we went north.

The road into the desert.

We arrived at Yazd and found a hotel. The first place we went to was a real backpacker place, busy with european tourists, your typical hardcore Lonely Planet crowd. It was a bit of a shock to the system for us. We hadnt really seen many western tourists at all. The price was a bit steep and we decided to try somewhere else. We ended up in a really depressing dirty and smelly little hotel but it had a great view from the roof.

View of the rooftops of Yazd. Check out the wind towers called badgirs. They channel the breeze down into the houses where it blows over a pool and cools the building. We went for a walk about to find a better hotel and book ourselves in for the following night.

Many of the streets are covered. The place was deserted though. Everything seemed to be shut. A real contrast from Shiraz. And although we had seen all those tourists in the other hotel there weren't any to be seen about the town.

Typical Yazd street. Empty!

The bunting was out.

Anyone got any ideas what this might be all about? I ain't got a clue. Inside that tall green box thing those colourful spirals were spinning round. on the left is a display of brass teapots. hmmm.

In the centre of town there is this building. It is the Amir Chakmakh complex. It is a Takieh - a building used just for the rituals that commemorate the martyrdom of the Immam Hossein. It is one of the largest Hosseiniehs in Iran. In the bottom of it there are a few places selling really tasty offal kebabs. Liver, kidney, heart or brain on a sqewer served with a raw onion and some thin flatbread. Great for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We couldn't really find much else.


Trying to keep our Shirazi self-appointed hosts happy

The next morning we went to get breakfast at the same tea garden/cafe that Mahmood took us to the previous night. After breakfast - mushy eggs - we went back to the bazar to get some gifts. We were a bit disappointed because there wasn't the same quality of beautiful handicrafts that we had seen in Esfahan. Coming out the other end of the bazar, into a back-alley, we stopped by a doorway into a courtyard with loads of bits of paper hanging up. Some girls were going past and they stopped to explain to us that it was an exhibition/tea garden dedicated to one of Iran's famous modern poets. The exhibition was made by the son of the poet. I can't remember the name of the poet. We went in and met the poet's son. A softly spoken man who gave us free tea. The girls were friendly too and spoke english and chatted away with Ruth and Hannah.

The two girls showed us the way to the post office so we could send our gifts home. It was shut

Outside Shiraz fort.

Then we had agreed to meet Kevin at one of Shiraz's famous Persian gardens. It was quite a long walk. We were late again.
Mahmood, who we met the previous night, had insisted we meet up again later at the same place. Kevin and Benjamin wanted to go out for food with us too and we tried to get them to go to the same place. However, at the last minute they decided they didn't want to go there and we ended up going with them and some of their friends to a swanky modern eatery for some western-style food: Fajitas and wedges. After that we went to meet Mahmood. Kevin promised to come and find us later.

On the way to meet Mahmood there were some escalators that were obviously causing quite a stirr! It was clearly the first time most people here had ever experienced an escalator! Adults and children alike were either approaching with caution or running back up to ride again and again.

We got there quite late. Mahmood had found some Italian tourists and was practicing his Italian on them. By the time Kevin found us the place was shutting. Then he went away and came back with gifts. Two fluffy toy puppy dawgs for Ruth and Hannah.


Pasargadae, Naqsh-e Rostam and Persepolis

On Tuesday morning Kevin, who we met the night before, was waiting for us in the hotel lobby. He was upset because apparently we were late. He took us to a museum and a bazar. We chatted along the way. He asked if he could meet us the next day.

In the afternoon we took a taxi to visit the most famous historical sites in Iran. They date from the Achemenid period (550-330 BC). Pasargadae was King Cyrus the Great's royal residence and gardens which began to be built in 546 BC. Cyrus' mausoleum is also there.

On the way we saw more textbook fold mountains.

The great big tomb of Iran's greatest king, Cyrus the Great!

The remains of Cyrus' garden; the very first Persian garden! This is the remains of a fountain just like the fountains we saw in Esfahan and spreads out from the centre towards the four directions north, south, east and west forming a cross-shape. No water in it unfortunately, now its all just semi-desert but this was once lush palace gardens.

Cyrus' tomb in the desert heat.

The remains of King Cyrus' palace where he lived. King Cyrus is Irans favourite historic king. He invented human rights so they say. He released the Jews from exile in Babylon and helped them rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. He is generally considered to have been a just and kindly ruler of a great and wealthy Persian empire.

Up the road at Naqsh-e Rostam is a series of Achaemenid royal rock tombs and elaborate Sassanian rock-relief carvings cut out of a high cliff. The tombs are those of Kings Darius I, Darius II, Xerxes I and Artaxerxes I . The tombs are high up in the cliff and are Achaemenid. The younger Sassanian rock-relief carvings are lower down beneath the tombs.

The tombs are cruciform. The openings in the centre of each one lead to the funerary chambers where the bones of the dead kings were placed after vultures had picked off the flesh. The Achamenid state religion was Zoroastrianism. One of their beliefs was that the Earth is sacred and should not be polluted by corpses. Therefore, the corpses of the dead were taken to a special tower and placed above the ground on a kind of rack where only vultures could pick the bones clean. Then the bones were placed in a hole. However, the bones of the kings were placed in tombs.

A carving above one of the tombs. See the Fravohar, symbol of the Zoroastrian faith.

A Sassanian rock-relief carving of King Ardashir I, founder of the Sassanian dynasty. He was crowned Shahenshah (King of Kings) of Iran in Ctesiphon (now Basra, Iraq) in 224 AD. On one horse is Ardashir and on the other Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord), God of the Zoroastrian Faith.

View of Naqsh-e Rostam.

Then we went to our final and most spectacular destination of the day, Persepolis. The remains of the breathtaking great reception hall of the Persian empire built by King Darius around 518 BC.

Walking up to the entry gate.

The view from the gate looking south along the royal road. Every year kings, nobles and leaders from all the lands of the known world came to pay tribute to the great king. They would proceed up this great road and up the grand steps bearing gifts.

Entering through the Gate of All Lands, guarded by strange majestic guardian bulls; part bull, part eagle and part bearded wise man.

Profile of the heavenly guardian bulls.

Ruth with some ancient Persians. All over the ruins are beautiful rock-relief carvings of life-size figures representing the kings and noble visitors from all the tribes, nations and peoples who came to pay tribute to the King of Kings on his throne here at Persepolis. These 1500 year-old carvings are really well preserved.

Look at them holding hands and stuff. Different peoples and tribes are identified by their distinctive clothing, hats etc.

Some Assyrians with round hats bringing two rams as a gift.

Some pointed-hat wearing Scythians (from the area of modern southern Russia and Kazakhstan) bringing armlets, whatever they are.

Lydians, from western Turkey, bringing amphora, bowls and armlets.

Winged guardian bull with the head of a bearded wise-man.

A Fravohar symbol hovering above King Darius on his throne.

An original Achaemenid Fravohar symbol. Zoroastrian symbol representing the eternal and free nature of the soul and the virtues of wisdom through good thoughts, good words and good deeds.

Sunset at Persepolis.

We got back to Shiraz about 9:30 and went out to look for some food. While we were walking up the street somebody started bellowing at us in English "Hello my friend. Can I help you? Where are you going? I saw you this morning at the Bazar". Sure enough the same guy had accosted me in a similar way in the morning when Kevin was taking us round the town and I had brushed him off a bit rudely because Iranian hospitality can be very demanding and it gets a bit much sometimes.
His name was Mahmood. We started chatting and he offered to show us a decent place to eat. We went and had a tasty aubergine meal and met his friend.